Firefighter Safety and Photovoltaic Systems
Under a United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Assistance to Firefighter Grant Program – Fire Prevention and Safety Grant, concerns about photovoltaic (PV) systems and potential impacts on firefighting operations are examined in this project. Key concerns include firefighter vulnerability to electrical and casualty hazards when mitigating a fire involving a PV system.
A functional PV array experimental fixture is constructed outdoors at UL’s Northbrook, IL campus. Experiments are also conducted on functioning PV arrays at Delaware County Emergency Service Training Center. Three PV technologies are used, including metal framed glass on polymer, flexible laminate, and building integrated roof shingles. These fire experiments are designed to represent a room or content compartment fire which evolves to a structure fire ending in collapse.
Additional experiments are conducted on rack mounted PV arrays to represent a debris fire under the PV modules above the roof. Upon completion, the PV modules are examined to determine their ability to generate power, representing potential safety hazards for firefighters, particularly during overhaul operations.
Findings gathered during these experiments provide knowledge for the fire service and enable them to examine their thought processes, standard operating procedures and training content.
The use of photovoltaic systems is increasing at a rate of 30% annually. As a result of greater utilization, traditional firefighter tactics for suppression, ventilation and overhaul have been complicated, leaving firefighters vulnerable to severe hazards. While electrical and fire dangers associated with PV systems have been known for some time, limited knowledge and insufficient data exists to understand them or enable the fire service to develop solutions and safely respond.
- Develop knowledge of the hazard of the application of water to PV installations
- Understand effective de-energizing practices, such as the deployment of salvage tarps, and limitations of disconnect devices.
- Address concerns about power generation during low and artificial light conditions.
Through this research, needed empirical data is developed to quantify hazards and provide the basis for the development of operational practices to reduce firefighter injury and death.
These experiments provided significant insight into the electrical shock hazard posed by photovoltaic equipment during fireground operations. The results have been translated into safety considerations for the fire service.
The safety considerations address the shock hazard due to direct contact with energized components, the shock hazard associated with water application during suppression activities, emergency disconnect techniques, intentional and unintentional severing of conductors, and the potential hazard associated with damaged PV modules and systems.